Job taken away on maternity leave: ask the expert

I am due to return to work in six weeks after 30 weeks maternity leave. On Monday I went for a meeting with the manager and I was told that my role was no longer needed. Before I went on leave I was the sole financial and administration person for the company. I hired cover for the time I was away. However, after six months her contract was ended and she was not replaced. Instead my manager and his wife took on the responsibilities and also came in on the weekends to do some of the work. I have now been told they will continue to do this so I am no longer needed. They have, however, offered me one day a week doing filing. This is not a suitable alternative considering I was returning to do a full five days a week. My employer hasn’t actually used the words redundant and I think he is trying to get me to hand my notice in. Where do I stand? Can he do this?

There are legal provisions in place protecting the rights of pregnant employees under the Equality Act 2010 both during pregnancy and maternity leave. Employers have to be very careful with regards to how they treat staff in this position and cannot discriminate against them as a result of their pregnancy.

You are legally entitled to return to the same role, on the same terms and conditions, as those you had before taking maternity leave. Alternatively, in order to remain compliant with its legal obligations, your employer has to offer you an alternative position on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than those you had before which includes full time hours and salary.

Based on the information you have provided, it appears that your employer’s decision has been made as a direct result of your maternity leave. Any dismissal or offer of a role which is clearly not on par with your previous job is likely to be automatically unfair. Employees do not require the usual two years’ service in order to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal in respect of this.

You would also potentially have a sex discrimination claim. In order to defend such a claim, your employer would have to prove that the decision regarding your role was not linked to your pregnancy or maternity leave in any way. Given that your manager and his wife have taken on your previous responsibilities and working extra hours during weekends in order to fulfil these additional duties, it is clear that the role itself still exists which further strengthens your case.

I would recommend seeking specialist legal advice as soon as possible to ensure the best outcome in your circumstances if their current position remains unchanged.”

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